Below is the text of a speech delivered by éirígí Newry spokesperson Stephen Murney at a public meeting on political policing organised by the Republican Congress at Queens University Belfast on Thursday evening [November 24].
I want to thank the Republican Congress for inviting me here to speak of my experiences and the experiences of republicans in Newry with British policing.
Firstly I’d like to talk briefly about my childhood, when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. I come from a republican family in Newry where relatives having their houses raided was a regular occurrence. Family members being stopped & searched, sometimes 4-5 times a day was also a regular thing. Members of my family were beaten and arrested and imprisoned in British prisons for their republican beliefs and activities. When I was being taken to primary school in the mornings my mother would have been stopped and searched daily.
These things happened over 20 years ago, today I’m an adult, and I’m experiencing those exact same things on a regular basis.
Just over 10 years ago the RUC changed its name to the PSNI. Republicans knew at the time that this wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to the functions and tactics used by the force. This wasn’t the first time this force had a name change. In 1922 it went from being called the RIC to the RUC and in 2001 it changed its name to the PSNI.
It’s ironic that 10 years after this force was given a lick of paint, the PSNI now has access to more repressive legislation than it ever had. It has ignored the European Court of Human Rights in regards to stop & search legislation, it continues to fire lethal plastic bullets at men, women and children, it has introduced tasers, has CS gas at its disposal, and in 2006 it was confirmed that Assistant Chief Constable Judith Gillespie approved the PSNI policy of using children as informants to inform on their own family members. The PSNI also co-operates fully with the British army and MI5, indeed in the past year in Newry the PSNI have searched entire housing estates in joint operations along with the British army, placing these areas under siege.
Another example of the link between the British army and the PSNI is that in 2009 the former PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde gave the order for the covert British army unit the Special Reconnaissance Regiment to be deployed in occupied Ireland. This unit has close links with the SAS, where is the accountability there?
The rebranding of the RUC was described as “a new beginning” and was heralded as a “new era”. In 2007 during what was described as the “policing debate” some people made astonishing claims and promises. We were told that the PSNI would be held to account, we were told that manners would be put on the PSNI, we were told that we would control the PSNI and we were told that things would change for the better.
None of that has materialised.
In the Newry area there has been a notable increase in harassment directed towards éirígí members and other republicans in the past few years. Stop & searches happen on an almost daily basis, house raids are a regular occurrence. I have also had my home raided in the early hours by the PSNI using the excuse of searching for firearms and explosives.
Just a few weeks ago the PSNI using a battering ram, forced their way into the home of a member of éirígí under the guise of searching for firearms in Newry’s Derrybeg estate.
For several hours they searched the home, during which time they harassed residents and refused family members access to the victim’s house. Some of those involved in the raid were dressed in white forensic suits and had sniffer dogs with them. When the victim’s family members arrived at the scene they had assault rifles pointed at them and PSNI gunmen pretended to be shooting at them in a petty display of intimidation, assaults and arrests also take place on a regular basis.
It’s now common practice for republicans in Newry to be assaulted and arrested during stop & searches and then the victim finds themselves facing charges and being hauled before British courts. I myself am currently facing a total of nine charges after being assaulted and arrested during a stop & search operation even though I was handcuffed and then punched and kicked by several members of the PSNI in front of my mother, sister and neighbours.
Several of my friends and comrades in Newry have also experienced the exact same treatment.
Numerous times they have placed entire communities under siege, which in turn causes riot situations. In recent years we have seen the worst rioting in Newry in over a decade as a result of these tactics used by the PSNI.
Children have also been targeted by the PSNI in Newry. We have cases of children as young as 14 being stopped and searched under draconian acts. A few months ago the PSNI stopped a bus full of kids just a few miles outside Newry. The kids were returning from what should have been an enjoyable day trip to Dublin to celebrate Father’s Day but were stopped by the PSNI and British army just outside Banbridge.
A few of us from Newry received a phone call telling us what was happening, we travelled the short distance to where the PSNI and British army were holding the victims but we were prevented from getting anywhere near them by armed PSNI and British army gunmen.
Crying children, as young as 4 years of age, were separated from their parents. The kids were then searched for weapons, searched for ammunition, swabbed for explosives, videoed and photographed. One child wet himself with fear and was forced by the PSNI and British army to stand at the side of the road crying, soaked in his own urine.
This is child abuse.
Quite a lot of the attention that éirígí activists receive in Newry is completely unwarranted and is a perfect example of how unchanged and unaccountable this force is and how they pursue a strategy of engaging in political policing. A lot of the harassment has occurred when we are involved in political activities such as delivering leaflets, erecting posters and banners and taking part in peaceful protests and pickets. These activities are widely accepted as legitimate political activities but when you partake in this type of activism in occupied Ireland you find yourself being stopped and searched for munitions and wireless apparatus.
If you disagree with the Stormont administration, oppose the British forces, speak out against injustices and human rights abuses that are carried out by the PSNI, and even though you may not currently support armed struggle, you will automatically find yourself labelled as being anti-peace process, a dissident, a conflict junkie and you then find yourself becoming a target of political policing, stop and searches, house raids and harassment.
We could, however, always go for the easy option and support the British police like our former comrades have. If we did that then our lives would be much easier. We wouldn’t get stopped and searched on a regular basis, nor would we have our homes raided. And I’m certain we wouldn’t find ourselves being assaulted and arrested by armed thugs of the British state. But that’s isn’t an option for us because we are Irish republicans.
The PSNI and their supporters might try to present the force as a fresh new beginning but they simply follow the same failed anti-republican agenda and strategy of harassment and intimidation they have always used to try and suppress republicanism.
The PSNI cannot be reformed, just like the RUC and the RIC before it could not be reformed. The issue of policing in Ireland will not be resolved until partition and British occupation is ended. Until that happens we will always have two militias operating in two different states to protect the interests of those states. The PSNI is at the frontline of protecting those in power, the occupation and upholding the British state it serves and protects.
So what has changed since 2001?
Well it’s clear that, for republicans, nothing has changed.